November 14, 2001 | By: Haven Miller

The market for organically-produced farm products nationwide continues to expand, and that's good news for Kentucky producers.

"Organic farming is a $ 9 billion industry with 12,000 farmers in the U.S., and is projected to be a $ 20 billion industry by 2005," said Bill Hawks, undersecretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

He spoke to an audience attending the recent Farm to Table Connection conference in Elizabethtown co-sponsored by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

"We have a lot of opportunities to connect with consumers and deliver the products they want, and that's what you're doing here in Kentucky – trying to find ways to connect the farm gate to the table," Hawks said.

The Farm to Table event brought together farmers, ag leaders, county Extension agents, and consumers in order to share information about organic and conventional production and markets.

"People here just basically want to know where they can get information," said Kathy Packard, a certified organic grower who participated in the conference. She and husband Ralph own the 12-acre Misty Meadows Farm near Payneville, where they grow lettuce, heirloom potatoes and a wide variety of other products.

"We're both full-time on this, and I would say for me it's less labor intensive than conventional farming. Some people might take issue with that but I'm doing what I love," said Ralph Packard. He said producers thinking about getting into organic growing need to think small, not big.

"You may be talking about an average gross income for a conventional corn or soybean farmer of less than $300 an acre, but when you go the route we've taken, well, we don't grow anything if it doesn't produce at least $4,000 an acre in gross returns," he said. "I don't need the combines, I don't need the big machines."

Another conference participant, Bert Jolly from Hardin County, has a thriving organic blackberry business he started 20 years ago.

"I didn't intend to start out organic but it just worked out that way," Jolly said. "A lot of my customers started asking if I sprayed them with anything and indicated that they didn't want them sprayed."

Jolly produces 1,200 to 1,300 gallons of berries a year, which he sells both U-pick and I-pick.

"I have a list of 300 customer names, and I can call those names in January and have all my berries sold by the end of January, and that's the way to do it," he said.

With continued consumer demand for fresh, locally-grown produce, opportunities for both organically-grown and conventional fruits and vegetables will remain strong in Kentucky.

"Kentucky is still a relatively small player nationally in commercial produce, so there's plenty of opportunity for our producers to go after both markets," said Tim Woods, Extension marketing specialist in the UK College of Agriculture. "Of course about 97 percent of produce in supermarkets is still conventionally-produced, but we also see some of our big wholesalers in Kentucky looking at developing a line of organic produce and that means organic is moving from fringe to mainstream."

Woods said Kentucky organic producers have a comparative advantage because the state has a well-recognized organic certification program managed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.


Tim Woods, 859-257-7270